Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Northern Exposure Part 2: Canadia!

This is the post you all have been waiting for. The day that Canada let me cross the border and that the US begged me to come back. So I did.

Let's talk about the drive up. Northern Minnesota is seriously awesome.  If you thought I was impressed with the leaves in Northern Wisconsin, they don't have anything on Northern Minnesota. Leaves AND Lake Superior. And it is even more fun to look at leaves when you have someone in the car with you to Ooh and Ahh. And agree to pull over on the side of the road to take more pictures.

We stopped not far from the Canadian border in Grand Portage, MN. Grand Portage is part of the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, home to members of the Ojibwe tribe. We decided to check out the National Monument. It was amazing. Seriously loved it. 

Just six miles later, we hit border patrol. Check out this excitment! Officially using the passport.

This is also when I realized I hadn't yet signed my passport. Oops! Did it real fast.

The woman working border patrol asked a whole lot of questions. She seemed skeptical that one would truly want to drive from Duluth to Thunder Bay just for a day trip. Apparently that's "pretty far." We got through her questions, but to my sadness, she did not stamp my passport. Just handed them back. Sad day. We celebrated our border crossing with a little "O Canada." At least, the few lines of the song that we knew.

At this point, we cut off all access to internet, social media, and maps because we now would receive crazy international charges. We kept driving straight through to Thunder Bay, making note of all of the signs where we wanted to stop on our way back south. We were so hungry though, that all we could think about is food. This will become important later.

Our first stop was at a Robin's. We didn't really know anything about this chain, but we were starving and it reminded us of Robin Sparkles. It was just mediocre. As in, I threw half of my sandwich away. But I did have a donut. People in Canada must really like donuts.

After an unsuccessful attempt to find the "touristy" area by following signs, we sat in a Starbucks parking lot to steal their wifi and see if we could find the amethyst cave. Did you know that amethysts are mined in Thunder Bay? What up, birthstone! When we figured out that said cave was another 45 minutes away, we said "no thank you" and instead drove to their retail store in town. We bought nothing - too pricy.

At this point we decided that as a whole, Thunder Bay was meh. Perhaps we didn't really find the good touristy stuff. We more often than not found ourselves in neighborhoods where you could likely buy crystal meth. Not our plan. We decided to trek back closer to the border to our other main goal for the day, Kakabeka Falls. We knew the one thing that would lift our spirits was more nature. Ann and I love some good nature.

But first, we stopped at another pick me up - Tim Horton's! Nothing hits the spot like donuts and coffee.

I loved Tim Hortons. It was everything I expected it to be from HIMYM and more. Okay, maybe not - it didn't have a bathroom...

We were finally back on the road to the Falls. Past the airport, past the cheese farm, and so forth. Around this time we began to notice the holy lack of signage, Batman. Apparently Thunder Bay, Ontario assumes that all tourists come from the south. And that they explore all tourist options one at a time, climbing north up the highway. So out of nowhere, we found ourselves back at the border...not the falls. This is where we began to hate Canada with a fiery passion.

We debated just leaving, but we both really wanted to see the falls. Mainly to redeem our view of our neighbor country to the north. So we popped into the visitor center, to figure out exactly how far that we needed to back track. The woman at the visitor center was quite surprised that we had tried to explore Canada sans map. Perhaps not our best decision. In fact, I believe she said, "what time did you come through? Were we not open?" Fair question. It is safe to say that we have become so dependent on our maps and search features on a smart phone, that we didn't realize it probably wasn't the best idea to just wing it in Canada. Anyway, she showed us how to get back to Kakabeka Falls, and we decided to go.

Kakabeka Falls. Worth it. It is the second biggest waterfall in Canada, after Niagra of course. And let me tell you, totes gorgeous. Breathtaking. The following pictures just do not do it justice.

We were also to find an obligatory souvenir shop near the Falls. Because let me tell you, I was gonna be real angry to return to the states without some maple syrup and some tchotckes. Chris specifically requested tchotckes. $80 Canadian dollars later, and we peaced the heck outta Canada. Sadly, Ann didn't get this awesome hat.

Now that I have been to Thunder Bay, I think I want to try other  parts of Canada. Maybe the larger tourist attractions like Toronto, Vancouver, etc. I will definitely go back to Northern Minnie. The leaves - wowsa.

It's official. #8 is done. No stamp in the passport (I am still cursing the border official for that one). We also decided that this counts as a classic American road trip. One filled with the glorious sounds of Mumford & Sons for several hours.

Oh, and yes, I did intentionally call this post Canadia. Because one of my coworkers tried to convince me that is how it is pronounced there. I did not fall for this trick. But now I will continue to call it that.

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